I have a very talented engagement team. They engage everyone: alumni, students, faculty, staff, corporate partners and the wider community. You know you have a great team when other people want to hire them away. Sometimes, especially in bureaucratic human resource settings like those employed by most universities, it’s hard to match what someone else might give them in money or responsibility. When that happens, you celebrate their time with you and cheer them on to great success in the future. If you do this right, they remain an extended part of your team forever. Ask Bridget Downs Keefe or Kelly Dowling.
This happened Thursday when we celebrated Erin’s new opportunity over at the Medical School. Erin has been our alumni relations officer for the past few years. She helped us elevate the Hall of Fame, organized Career Day (and then week), partnered with Engineering and Sciences to bring a Big Data Symposium to campus and was the main point of contact for alums who wanted to volunteer their time and talent back to the College. She helped us move our agenda, learned a lot along the way and shared many disappointments with us as we searched for a decent lunch option in the Student Union once they took our salad bar away (Yes, we are all still bitter about this).
The problem with being the College’s alumni officer, is that there is little room for upward mobility. Most colleges only have one such position and the central office has very few tiers. By the end of year two, you kind of have the job down. By the end of year three, if you are any good, you are looking for a new challenge. If you engage with lots of other people like my team does, they see your performance and want to find a place for you in their organization. The smart thing to do is to take what you’ve learned and move on.
Some people do this quietly. Others do it with tears or a little regret. Erin, did it with the same charm, wit and originality that defined her time with us. You see, Erin solved the disappointing lunch option problem by eating a sweet potato almost every day. We would tease her about it as we each complained about our food. So on her final day, she left each of us a note and a sweet potato with a message that kind of defined her relationship with each of us. Mine is pictured above. Yes, I admit to using “rat bastard” a lot when describing another person or group who beat us to the punch on something. I’m pretty sure I called Deb and Chip this when she told me about the new opportunity. On the other side of the potato she wrote a phrase that I had come to appreciate her for using: “This is how they get ya….” When I read it, I simply nodded. Everyone who got a sweet potato is going to remember that day with a smile.
So, good luck girl. I’m going to miss those polka dots at staff meetings, the calm in Tiffany’s storm leading up to the Hall of Fame and the smell of microwaved sweet potatoes at lunch. We are on your team forever Jess (Oh wait, I mean Erin :)), go do great things!